In Washington, the 2014 midterm election season is well underway. Actually, it has been since late 2013, when both parties started signaling that they were pretty much done with any serious legislating on immigration, trade or other challenges facing the republic.
Never mind that a new class of lawmakers had just arrived in Washington in January 2013. Nope, it was time to start thinking about the midterms.
Holding nationwide elections for federal office every two years feeds the permanent-campaign mind-set that grips our elected officials and political reporters, too many of whom would rather dwell on generic congressional ballot surveys and Cook Political Report ratings than on actual lawmaking.
The two-year term requires new House members to start their fundraising for the next election as soon as they arrive in Washington. This winnows the pool of candidates — and not in a good way. “The skill of telemarketing does not translate very often into the skill of governing, so there are real implications for the kind of people you get on the other end,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, formerly of the House, observed last year.
And midterms aren’t exactly a display of democracy at its finest, given that far fewer voters turn out than in presidential years. For example, in the 2010 midterm elections, 89 million ballots were cast, compared with 129 million in 2012.
Yes, the founders believed that frequent elections would give House members, as James Madison put it, “immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people.” But there’s not much responsiveness to the public when more than 90 percent of House incumbents win their races.
So, onward with a constitutional amendment to expand House terms to four years. Voters would still be able to express midterm sentiments in elections for Senate and governors’ offices. Meanwhile, Washington could get back to work.
Alec MacGillis, a senior editor at the New Republic, wrote this for The Washington Post.